The mention of 52 college students making multiple trips to New Orleans during school breaks might inspire all sorts of 'gone wild' thoughts.
But these students from St. Mary's College of California spent a miniscule fraction of their time in the French Quarter. They had neither the time nor energy for it.
That's because on six Louisiana trips, SMC students have invested more than 10,000 hours rebuilding devastated homes in the Upper Ninth Ward.
The devastation here is not limited to bricks and mortar. People who live here still wake up every day to the psychological effects of a lost home, a ravaged neighborhood and a startling lack of progress.
Many are lifelong residents. They have no place to go and no financial ability to rebuild their flood-ravaged homes. Billions of federal dollars allocated for relief many months ago have not yet reached them.
But one home at a time, charitable agencies are helping restore and revive. And volunteers such as those from St. Mary's College are providing the elbow-grease.
Not many of the volunteers log the hours and display the commitment of the St. Mary's students. Most, in fact, seek more of a balance between business and pleasure. They will spend evenings listening to jazz or mornings touring mansions, but reserve all or part of some vacation days for volunteer work.
Their visits are needed on several economic fronts.
Although New Orleans' tourist areas are open and largely restored, the crowds are smaller than those of the pre-Katrina era. Visitors hear "thanks so much for coming" multiple times during their stays.
Another factor: the restoration work to be done is so enormous that it's hard to believe. The New Orleans metropolitan area has lost about 300,000 of its 1.3 million pre-Katrina inhabitants. A city of 465,000 in August 2005 had less than 200,000 living within its city limits in early 2007.
In short, the work will be there for years to come. There are agencies that could use your help, if only for a few hours:
Hands-On New Orleans This organization organizes park clean-ups, food bank distributions and other important tasks.
Habitat for Humanity offers an online construction calendar that should help in your voluntourism planning.
Volunteers of America of Greater New Orleans has placed more than 10,000 volunteers in the region since Katrina. They offer an email address to which you can send information about your travel plans.
Here are some places to find discounts on travel to New Orleans:
Experience New Orleans offers online coupons you can print for hotels, restaurants, attractions and shopping.
New Orleans Online also offers printable coupons for a variety of attractions in the region.
CheapTickets.com has a section on volunteer vacations where you can arrange discount lodging.
Lonely Planet recommendations for New Orleans lodgings tend to be colorful and easy on the budget.
Hostels.com recommends three establishments in New Orleans, with beds starting in the $16-25 USD/night range.
If your travel plans do not include New Orleans, but voluntourism interests you, click "next" and learn about other opportunities.